• American farmers - silos - quote
  • Tewolde - quote
  • Rice and new scientist - quote
  • image
  • Former head of Novartis - quote

 

GM in the Countryside

"All those dreams... the blind will see, the lame will walk... has turned out to be science fiction. They are basically chemical companies selling more chemicals. They've been able to spread these herbicide-promoting plants around because it is more convenient for farmers who can just mass-spray their crops. But they've given absolutely nothing to the consumer while causing more chemical pollution and contamination."
Andrew Kimbrell, lawyer and executive director of the Center for Food Safety (USA)

 

Key Information

The two GM traits that account for almost 100% of the GM crops on the market are herbicide resistance and insect resistance. 81% of GM crops are engineered to be resistant to herbicide.1 Only four crops - soya, maize, cotton and canola (oilseed rape) - comprise virtually 100% of GM agriculture.

Because of strong public opposition to GM crops none have ever been grown commercially in the UK. The GM products available are imported from Europe and other parts of the world.
In recent years there have been several recorded incidences of GM seed contamination in the UK, resulting in GM plants being accidentally grown.

Early in 2009 a farmer and two friends secretly planted the GM maize MON810 during the 2008 season and fed it to farm animals. This is the same maize that has been banned in six European countries because of it's damaging effects upon insects and soil micro-organisms.
For three years from 2004 - 6, there were no GM field trials in Britian. In 2007 the UK government gave the go ahead for trials of BASF's blight-resistant potatoes near Cambridge. In 2008 Leeds University were granted permission to grow potatoes engineered to resist cyst nematodes near Tadcaster, and this was followed up by permission for a second trial into a similar issue at the same location. In 2010 the John Innes Research Centre near Norwich started trials into blight-resistant potatoes.

 

What GM crops are grown around the world?

GM trial site, showing blocks of GM crops and control cropsFor twenty years the biotech industry has been promising GM miracle crops, but none of these have ever been commercialised and it is unlikely that this will change. The two GM traits that account for almost 100% of the GM crops on the market are herbicide resistance and insect resistance. 81% of GM crops are engineered to be resistant to herbicide.1 Chemical companies such as Monsanto and BASF are pushing herbicide resistant plants in particular as this ties farmers into a cycle of buying both seeds and matching herbicide from the same company. None of the GM crops grown are engineered for increased yield.

Only four crops - soya, maize, cotton and canola (oilseed rape) - comprise virtually 100% of GM agriculture. Small amounts of sugarbeet, Hawaiian papaya, alfalfa, zucchini, yellow squash and tobacco (Quest® brand) are also grown. GM soya, maize and oilseed rape are mostly used in animal feed for industrial farming, rather than feeding the poor as the GM lobby likes to claim.

The industry has been claiming for years, that a new generation of socially responsible GM is on its way: food crops that will be drought resistant, or saline tolerant, or nutritionally enhanced. But there are serious doubts that these promises will ever be fulfilled,2 3 and if they are, such crops are likely to pose intensified food safety and cross contamination risks.4

GM in decline?

The Friends of the Earth report Who Benefits from GM crops? Feeding the biotech giants, not the world's poor5 shows that GM plantings make up a mere 2.4% of global agricultural crop land and nearly 80% of the global area planted to GM crops was in just three countries - the US, Argentina and Brazil. Less than 3% of crop land in India and China is planted with GM crops, almost exclusively GM cotton.

In the European Union, GM crops represent just 0.21% of farm land. The area of GM crops has actually fallen in Europe every year since 2005.

The GM industry had to deal with more bad news when the GM maize Mon 810 was been banned in no less than six European countries (Germany, Austria, Luxemburg, France, Hungary and Greece, plus Italy and Poland who have de facto bans in place). This is because there is scientific evidence that it poses threats to the environment.6

GM rice, wheat, tomatoes, sweetcorn, potatoes and popcorn have all been rejected as unacceptable in the global marketplace. GM papaya cultivation in Hawaii has been declining over several years.What types of GM crops are grown in the UK?

 

What GM crops are grown in the UK?

Because of strong public opposition to GM crops none have ever been grown commercially in the UK. The GM products available are imported from Europe and other parts of the world.

Contaminated seeds

GM maizeIn recent years there have been several recorded incidences of GM seed contamination, resulting in GM plants being accidentally grown. The number of actual incidences is likely to be higher, as no effective monitoring systems are in place.

In 2008 trial sowings of a new variety of conventional oilseed rape in Scotland and in Somerset were found to contain small amounts of unapproved GM seed.7

In 2002, Aventis (now Bayer), revealed that oilseed rape seed used at twelve sites in the UK’s farm scale trials with GM crops, was contaminated with an unapproved GM variety. The seed had been used at a total of twenty five British trials dating back to 1999.8

In 2000 oilseed rape contaminated with around 1% of GM seed had been sown on 4,700 hectares. Farmers who had inadvertently planted the seeds found they had no market for their oilseed rape when the Seed Crushers’ and Oil Producers’ Association announced they would not accept it for food use. The farmers were advised to plough up the contaminated crop. The seed had been produced in Canada from plants grown over 4 km from the nearest GM crop.9

Illegal growing

In 2008 a farmer and agricultural consultant in the Brecon Beacons National Park and two of his friends secretly planted GM maize and fed it to farm animals. This is the same maize that has been banned in six European countries because of it's damaging effects upon insects and soil micro-organisms, because it causes damage to the internal organs of animals consuming it and it negatively affects reproduction.

The maize is designed for much warmer and drier parts of Europe and does not do well in the UK. This is why, even though in principle it is approved in this country, it is not being grown. The farmer who also works as a consultant to the GM industry admitted that he grew the crop purely for political reasons.10

GM test sites

From 1996-2004 a large number of GM trials took place in the UK, mostly maize, rape, beet and potatoes. This was met with strong opposition from the public and many of the trials were uprooted by protesters leading to GM companies pulling out of crop trialling in the UK in 2004.

However in 2007 the UK government gave the go ahead to five years worth of potato trials near Cambridge. In 2008 Leeds University were granted permission to grow potatoes engineered to resist cyst nematodes near Tadcaster, and this was followed up by permission for a second trial into a similar issue at the same location. In 2010 the John Innes Research Centre near Norwich started trials into blight-resistant potatoes. The Cambridge trial was uprooted by protesters in 2007, and the Tadcaster trial in 2008, but both went ahead on other years aided by fortress-style security measures.

In Spring 2012 a two-year open-air trial of GM wheat began at Rothamsted Research in Hertfordshire.

 

Leeds University GM Potato Trial

Leeds University is currently growing a field trial of 400 GM potatoes. They have been genetically modified for resistance to eelworms (also called potato cyst nematodes). The trial is at Headley Hall Farm near Tadcaster, map grid reference SE4341.11

University of Leeds logoThe permission to grow the GM potatoes is for three years running from May 2008 until November 2010. The 2008 trial was pulled up and destroyed by anti-GM campaigners before the plants could flower and spread GM pollen.

GM potatoes grown openly in the field pose the risk of contaminating our countryside and our food supply with GM material. Although potatoes do not cross-pollinate easily, studies found that cross-pollination of potatoes can take place of up to 1km from the GM crop.12 13The GM proteins in these potatoes have not been tested sufficiently for allergenicity or toxicity first and could pose a threat to human health. The Tadcaster GM potatoes also contain controversial marker genes that confer resistance to antibiotics still in clinical use. There is a danger that these genes could be taken up by bacteria in the gut of humans and animals, creating super bugs that are resistant to those antibiotics.

GM potatoes are not needed and a waste of public research funding. Eelworm can be tackled using good agricultural practice by using crop rotation and naturally resistant potato varieties. The introduction of GM potatoes would encourage short rotation which will not lead to sustainable farming systems.

  • You can view the application by Leeds University and the consent document giving permission for the trial to go ahead on the DEFRA website

  • Download and read the GM Freeze Response to the trial

  • You can write to Leeds University to express your views:

    Professor Howard Atkinson

    Centre for Plant Sciences

    University of Leeds

    Leeds LS2 9JT

 

Footnotes

1 Friends of the Earth International, February 2008, Who benefits from GM crops? Questions and Answers. available at last viewed 29.04.09

2 Heinemann, Jack, 'Desert Grain', The Ecologist, Volume 38, Issue 9, November 2008, pp23-4.

3 'Patenting the “climate genes” ... and capturing the climate agenda', ETC group communique, Issue 99, May/June 2008, p6

4 'Patenting the “climate genes” ... and capturing the climate agenda', ETC group communique, Issue 99, May/June 2008, p11

5 http://www.foeeurope.org/GMOs/Who_Benefits/full_report_2009.pdf

6 http://www.gmfreeze.org/page.asp?id=380&iType=

7 http://gmcontaminationregister.org/index.php?content=re_detail&gw_id=255& reg=cou.2&inc=0&con=0&cof=0&year=0&handle2_page=

8 http://gmcontaminationregister.org/index.php?content=re_detail&gw_id=25& reg=cou.2&inc=0&con=0&cof=0&year=0&handle2_page=

9 http://gmcontaminationregister.org/index.php?content=re_detail&gw_id=2& reg=cou.2&inc=0&con=0&cof=0&year=0&handle2_page=

10 http://www.gmfreecymru.org.uk/news/Press_Notice26Jan2009.htm

11 Application for consent to release GMOs, http://www.defra.gov.uk/environment/gm/regulation/pdf/07-r31-01-app-rev.pdf

12 Skogsmyr, I. 1994. Gene dispersal from transgenic potatoes to nonspecifics: a field trial. Theor. Appl. Genet. 88: 770-774.

13 Emberlin J and Treu R, 2000. Pollen dispersal in the crops Maize (Zea mays), Oil seed rape (Brassica napus ssp. oleifera), Potatoes(Solanum tuberosum),Sugar beet (Beta vulgaris ssp. vulgaris) and Wheat (Triticum aestivum). Soil Association, Bristol.